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How long until we have fully automated self-driving cars?

5 minutes

We may still be a way from letting AI do all the work on the roads – but manufacturers are making technological leaps forward every month.

We put together some key statistics to help us work out who’s closest to putting the first fully self-driving vehicle on the market.

  • What makes a car fully automated?
  • Who is closest to building a roadworthy self-driving car?
  • What does the UK think of self-driving cars?

How long until we have fully automated self-driving cars?

Writing for LV= car insurance, motoring journalist Leon Poultney helps us assess the race to full automation. 

What are the SAE levels of driving automation for on-road vehicles?

SAE International (originally the Society of Automobile Engineers) describes six levels of automation, from level 0 to level 6. Naturally, level 0 means no automation.

The other levels are ranked in four categories: ‘Execution of Steering and Acceleration/Deceleration’, ‘Monitoring of Driving Environment’, ‘Fallback Performance of Dynamic Driving Task’ and ‘System Capability (Driving Modes)’.


SAE level Name Narrative Definition
Execution of Steering and Acceleration/Deceleration
Monitoring of driving environment
Fallback performance of dynamic driving task
System capability (driving modes)
Human driver monitors the driving environment

0 No Automation
The full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems
Human driver
Human driver
Human driver
n/a
1 Driver Assistance
The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task
Human driver and system
Human driver
Human driver
Some driving modes
2 Partial Automation
The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task
System
Human driver
Human driver
Some driving modes
Automated driving system ("system") monitors the driving environment

3
Conditional Automation
The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.
System
System
Human driver
Some driving modes
4
High Automation
The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.
System
System
System
Some driving modes
5 Full Automation
The full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver
System
System
System
All driving modes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
SAE level Name Narrative Definition
Execution of Steering and Acceleration/Deceleration
Monitoring of driving environment
Fallback performance of dynamic driving task
System capability (driving modes)
Human driver monitors the driving environment

0 No Automation
The full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems
Human driver
Human driver
Human driver
n/a
1 Driver Assistance
The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task
Human driver and system
Human driver
Human driver
Some driving modes
2 Partial Automation
The driving mode-specific execution by one or more driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task
System
Human driver
Human driver
Some driving modes
Automated driving system ("system") monitors the driving environment

3
Conditional Automation
The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.
System
System
Human driver
Some driving modes
4
High Automation
The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.
System
System
System
Some driving modes
5 Full Automation
The full-time performance by an automated driving system of all aspects of the dynamic driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver
System
System
System
All driving modes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Whose car has the best autonomous driving features?

In reality, most of the premium brands – Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Bentley among them – already feature advanced autonomous systems, but Audi is currently topping the charts with its latest A8 model: the first to be classified as SAE Level 3 Autonomy.

In countries where road laws permit autonomous vehicles, such as Germany, drivers can activate Traffic Jam Pilot and catch up with emails via the infotainment system at speeds of up to 37mph.

Tesla claims that its Model S and Model X have the hardware to match speed to traffic conditions; keep within a lane; automatically change lanes without requiring driver input; transition from one motorway to another; exit the motorway when the destination is near; self-park when near a parking spot; and allow the car to be summoned to and from your garage.

The 2018 Nissan Leaf sees advanced levels of autonomy arrive at the more affordable end of the market, with ProPilot combining lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control.

Ford might not be shouting about the self-driving abilities of its current models, but the American giant announced that it was teaming up with Uber rival Lyft to build a fleet of autonomous taxis, due on the roads by 2021.

What technology is needed to make autonomous driving a reality?

  • High-definition cameras allow the car to ‘see’ the world around it
  • Laser scanners build a detailed digital picture of the vehicle’s constantly changing surroundings
  • Mid and long-range sensors allow the car to ‘sense’ obstacles in its immediate vicinity
  • Digital maps allow the vehicle to pinpoint where it is at any given moment in time
  • Heavyweight processing power is used via on-board computer systems

How are manufacturers doing with their self-driving cars?

Much of the world’s autonomous car research is currently taking place in California.

The Californian transport regulator recently released statistics that show how many miles various autonomous vehicle manufacturers have covered in autonomous modes in the States.

How are manufacturers doing with their self-driving cars?

Better still, it has listed the number of times an operator has had to take over when the machine has got itself into a sticky situation.

Google-owned Waymo has covered the most miles with the fewest interventions, followed by General Motor’s Cruise.

Waymo required human drivers to take control 63 times during 352,545 miles travelled on California’s public roads, or 5,596 miles per disengagement.

Cruise required 105 disengagements over 127,516 miles driven, or 1,214 miles per disengagement.

Miles per disengagement gives an indication of how close the technology is to being suitable for the commercial market.

There are plenty of other companies testing self-driving cars in California: household appliances manufacturer Bosch, computer graphics leader Nvidia, Elon Musk’s Tesla and Chinese technology giant Baidu, to name a few.

What else do autonomous car manufacturers need to consider?

The race isn’t just happening in the labs, factories and, of course, on the roads – there’s also a legal race to be won.

According to a report from the Cologne Institute for Economic Research, many manufacturers have been filing patents that are related to autonomous driving.

The institute examined 5,839 patents that were filed between January 2010 and July 2017 to find out which company had filed the most. Perhaps surprisingly, Bosch were in the lead, filing almost twice as many as anyone else – though they are a supplier of hardware to most of the major manufacturers.

Patents related to autonomous driving

There are also laws in most countries that prevent self-driving cars from using the roads.

Audi’s Dr Wolfgang Schmid claims that some governmental bodies are more open to higher levels of vehicle automation, with Germany, for instance, modifying its regulations in late June 2017 to allow cars to be driven with conditional and fully automated functions ‘within the designated parameters for use’.

‘In this instance, customers would be able to perform side-tasks, such as watching a video or replying to emails via the infotainment, when traffic jam pilot is active,’ he explains.

‘We hope that other countries will follow suit in the coming months,’ he adds.

What does the UK think about self-driving cars?

Even if lawmakers decide to allow fully automated cars on the UK’s roads, manufacturers still need to win over the general public.

UK Autodrive, one of the main self-driving car testers in the UK, conducted a survey of 2,850 UK residents to find out how open they would be to the idea of full automation.

What does the UK think about self-driving cars?

Most people said they would use their time as a passenger in a self-driving car to look out of the window, with 55% saying they would look at the scenery while travelling in a self-driving car.

With all the patents to file, technology to test and laws to pass, UK motorists have a while to get used to the idea of self-driving cars. For now, we can follow every development in the news and try out some of the simpler driver assist systems in the latest models on the market.

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